Abstract: The cooking of the Macanese, an ethnic group originating in Macau, represents one of the earliest examples of creole cooking. What can be seen on the dining plates of these people reflects history and culture dating back to the seafaring discoveries of the Portuguese. Macanese cuisine demonstrates how Portuguese culinary traditions have been interpreted and incorporated in acts of eating in greater China, while being accented by the flavors of Portugal’s colonial history.

Citation: Cheung (2021). Berkshire Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing Group.

DOI: 10.47462/2110312034

Keywords: Macau; Macanese; Portuguese; cultural identity; creole; fusion; handover; indigenous; balichao; bacalhau; minchi

Any figures or illustrations or illustrations included here are not finalized for publication. Advance publication date as per post date. Copyright Berkshire Publishing Group.

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Cuisine of Macau

Annabel Jackson, Independent Scholar

The Portuguese have engaged in cross-cultural culinary conversations for centuries. They introduced chilies to China, tempura and pão de ló cake to Japan, and coffee to Brazil. They created vindaloo in India when Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos (meat braised in vinegar) was infused with chopped fresh chilies and Indian spices. But it was in Macau that an entirely new cuisine, based on Portuguese cooking techniques and traditions, would emerge. As food anthropologist Sidney Mintz has observed:Human movement is a primary cause of changes in food behavior” (Mintz 2008). To study Macanese cuisine, the indigenous cooking of Macau, is to study the Macanese people, positioning food and its consumption at the heart of an understanding of history, geography, and culture.

Origins of an Enclave and the Macanese

The Portuguese were allegedly and begrudgingly granted the rights to land in Macau (Macau was never an official colony, but was referred to as an enclave), the Chinese considering them as an at least efficient means of policing pirate activity in the South China Sea. They arrived in the mid-1500s, some three-hundred years before the British would annex Hong Kong. Early artworks suggest that the place was uninhabited, bar a few fishing Tanka families who lived on their fishing vessels. But the Portuguese sailors did not arrive alone; they came with wives and servants from Portuguese colonial outposts such Goa, Malacca, and Timor, and from countries such as Japan and the Philippines, where the Portuguese were engaged in trade. Officially, no Portuguese women travelled on the ships or resided in the colonies. Integration with locals through marriage was encouraged by Lisbon.

The Macanese, then, were Eurasians born into Christian families: offspring of Portuguese men and women from various Asian and southeast Asian countries. It is particularly important to note that there was no local existing culture: Chinese blood would only much later make up part of the Macanese ethnicity, and even when the Chinese did start to work in Macau—cleaning ships, for example—they would return home (to China-“proper”) at night, through the border gate. There was thus no direct Chinese influence on the cuisine except for the utilization of locally available perishables.

Works by the British artist George Chinnery (1774–1852), who lived for some years in Macau, show Chinese traders selling Cantonese snacks on the streets; so, the community in Macau would have had early exposure to Guangdong cooking. “Until the 19th century Macao was just a transit city for foreigners and Portuguese from the mainland, and although the Chinese afforded the city its character, its soul lay with the Macaenses (Macanese) or ‘sons of the land’” (Pons 1999, 100). The Macanese have also historically followed the Chinese in their commitment to “looking after people’s health by way of the food they eat” (Jorge 2004, 17). Thus we find a dish like chau chau parida, which is traditionally made with pork kidneys and served to postnatal women: parida means “delivered of a birth.” The Macanese would also enthusiastically take part in local festivals such as Chinese New Year, in addition to Christian celebrations.

Origins of Macanese Cooking

The Macanese call themselves the filhos da terra, the children of the land, and consider themselves the indigenous people of Macau. A peninsula on a southern tip of Guangdong Province, on the South China Sea, Macau also includes a pair of islands, Coloane and Taipa, though these three land masses are now entirely co-joined. They form part of the Pearl River Delta, with land on either side of the river meeting in Guangzhou (Canton), the capital city of Guangdong, China’s most southerly province, and traditionally Cantonese-speaking.

The Pearl River Delta is rich in agriculture, sustaining a rice-based diet including plentiful fish and vegetables, with pork and chicken the favored meats. The staples of the Portuguese diet, then, from which Macanese cuisine would develop—fish and seafood, pork and chicken; potatoes, cabbage, and onions; and eggs—were in plentiful supply. The defining Asian flavors of the cuisine would emerge as the fermented seafood preparation balichão, coconut milk, and turmeric.

The Portuguese did not arrive empty-handed either, being already heavily involved in the spice trade; the heady aromas of peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, and cloves rose from the ships’ holds. They carried provisions as well: bacalhau (salt cod), Madeira wine, cured meats, and olives and olive oil. They carried, too, thanks to the varying backgrounds of wives and servants, the intangible cultural skills and knowledge that spanned many Asian cuisines, and ingredients that were not native to southern China. Dishes incorporating non-native ingredients clearly had their origins from far away, and intra-Asia movement of people would already have been spurning culinary interchange. Conditions were ripe for a new, hybrid cuisine to emerge.

What is Macanese Cooking?

The emergence of Macanese cuisine can be traced through a variety of strands: from saudade (the longing for home experienced by the Portuguese, an intense suffering expressed in the mournful music tradition fado) to another kind of longing: for the varied aromas, flavors, and textures of Asian cuisines on the part of wives and servants.

Attempts to exactly define it can be problematic, and there are linguistic complications. Within the Chinese language, the people referred to as Macanese, or the food referred to as Macanese, do not necessarily exist. While in English the term “Macanese” (or, in Portuguese, Macaense) refers to a specific people and a specific cuisine: “[T]he Chinese attribute the term Macanese to everything found in the territory” (Augustin-Jean 2002, 123). For the people of Macau, “although they are often unable to identify Macanese food, they still call themselves Macanese and justify it by the fact that they live in the territory. Consequently, it is probable that the associations of the following terms are made by the Chinese population: Macanese food equals food of Macau (regardless of origin)/Macanese population equals inhabitants of Macau” (Augustin-Jean 2002, 123).

There’s little consensus in the Macanese community itself. Macanese writer and researcher Antonio Jorge da Silva asserts that this is because “some families in Macau have closer ethnic ties to Portugal than do others: many mainland Portuguese have married into local Macanese families. This has a direct impact on the culinary preferences…[and] some mainland traditional dishes have been integrated in Macanese cuisine” (Jackson 2003, 30). The scholars Yang Zhang and Ching Lin Pang (2012, 939) take the question further: “The development of Macanese food is fraught with ambiguities and dissonant voices and views. Macanese food is constantly reconfigured by different actors, at the imagined and material level in response to the tension between the discursive narratives and practical enactment.”

Food writers have created mythologies around its emergence. Sir arrives back at the colonial waterfront villa tired and hungry from an exhausting voyage, and longs for the cooking of his mother. He goes to the kitchen with one of his servants and, as best as he can, shows her how to first reconstitute a piece of bacalhau in water and, later, how to prepare it in a stew with thickly sliced potatoes, bell peppers, and onions. The dish is richly flavored with liberal amounts of olive oil and garlic, and becomes a regular in this household: an essentially Portuguese dish but one cooked with local vegetables. It is “Macanese” though it would be recognizable as Portuguese in Lisbon.

Scenes such as this were repeated across Macau’s domestic kitchens. A Malay servant would be preparing a beef stew with bay leaf and rosemary from the kitchen garden. The aromas are acceptable, but she considers the gravy rather thin on flavor. So, she stirs in the star anise and cinnamon stick she knows from home, and a truly hybrid dish is created. Similarly, fried crab is deemed lacking in flavor, so a wife of Goan descent adds fresh chilies and tamarind pulp (for a hot-sour sensation) which, in turn, remind her of home. (Augustin-Jean 2002, 122; Doling 1994, 56–57). Fish pie, made with a sweetened pastry, is imaginatively flavored with ground coriander and saffron (saffron almost always means turmeric in Macanese recipes). In the absence of fresh milk, coconut milk is used to make a tapioca dessert. Papaya flowers from the tree growing outside the kitchen door are tossed into a stir-fried crab dish at the suggestion of a neighbor; and everyone is intrigued by the cooking smells of highly seasoned tripe emanating from the house on the hill. One wife tries to emulate it, and her version is now considered superior.

As for components, Macanese cuisine does not feature much of a range of vegetable dishes, with the exception of creations such as bitter gourd cooked in coconut milk, and eggplant sambal—both bitter gourd and eggplant being widely available in markets because they are very popular with the Cantonese. Most Macanese cook Cantonese-style vegetable dishes at home, such as stir-fried bok choy or steamed pea shoots; or serve a simple Portuguese-inspired salad of local lettuce, tomato, onion, and green bell pepper, studded with brined olives.

Characteristic Dishes

The breadth of the Macanese cannon attests to the breadth of the ethnicities represented in the community, and Macanese can thus be deemed to have sophisticated palates that appreciate a broad range of flavors, textures, and sensations. Flavor combinations were born that were unfamiliar to both Asian and European palates. Dishes range from subtle noodle soup or deep-fried vegetarian pastries, to rich meat stews and spicy seafood curries, to sweet snacks, cakes, and desserts. Macanese cuisine has also absorbed Portuguese dishes to the point that they would be considered Macanese, particularly salt-cod dishes such as pastéis de bacalhau.

Balichão

Balichão is not used in every dish, but is a condiment unique to Macanese cuisine. Almost certainly inspired by the belacan of Malaysia and Indonesia, and redolent of Vietnamese nuoc mam, it is a fermented fish sauce made with krill. These tiny shrimps, which used to abound in the upper reaches of the Pearl River Delta, but are now difficult to access, are combined with Portuguese brandy or wine, chili, lemon, peppercorns, and bay leaf—all left in a clay urn for three months or so. These days, almost no one is making it in this traditional way, instead taking belacan as the base ingredient and mixing it with the other component parts. This sauce is fried and then used as a component part of dishes—it is not a dipping sauce. Like all fermented fish or seafood products, it is highly pungent, and a good source of nutrition, as well as flavor. It forms a particularly central role in the Malay-inspired dish porco balichão tamarindo, where it adds an extra layer of flavor, and in the noodle soup dish lacassa (based on Malaysian laksa) where it heightens aromas together with sprigs of coriander. Balichão is almost certainly the precursor of the Cantonese salted-shrimp paste, haam ha cheung, showing how Macanese cuisine in turn would influence local culinary culture.

African Chicken

One of the most iconic dishes in the Macanese repertoire, African chicken is believed to be one of the more modern, dating to the 1940s. It is thought to have been created by chef America Angelo (who died in 1979) at the former Pousada de Macau, though there’s an almost identical dish from Goa, and both bear a resemblance to India’s butter chicken. It is also known as galinha à cafreal, perhaps because of its final, rather blackened appearance: African slaves who worked on the ships were known as cafres (Jorge 2004, 82). Culinary links with Africa seem likely following a visit to one of Portugal’s colonies (probably Angola or Mozambique) by Angelo. The recipe attributed to him involves a marinade of butter, garlic, chilies, coconut milk, and bay leaves, although versions available in Macau today are almost always made with a tomato-based sauce. Many chefs cooking the dish in Macau today maximize the amount of sauce, which is then mopped up with bread.

Minchi

Macau novelist and lawyer Henrique de Senna Fernandes (1923–2010) said that not a day had gone by when he had not eaten minchi (personal communication, 1994), and it is a dish which appears in Macanese literature. There are many different versions, but it is always served with rice and a flipped-over fried egg on top. It is usually made with a combination of ground beef and ground pork (preferably cut by hand with two choppers) cooked in Portuguese olive oil, with the addition of diced onions and tiny cubes of fried potato, and a sauce composed of dark soy, light soy (and possibly kecap manis, the sweet soy sauce of Indonesian derivation) and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. The inclusion of the latter suggests the dish may have been created following the arrival of the British in Hong Kong, this being an iconic British seasoning (which originated in colonial India). Alternatively, it may have been added to the sauce later; in any case, it points to a close relationship between the British and the Macanese, who were able to speak English in addition to Cantonese and Portuguese (and the Macanese patau, which has all but died out now). The term minchi is thought to be a corruption of the English word “mince” (Jackson 2003, 79). Other theories suggest that minchi could be based on the Indian ground lamb dish keema, which the Portuguese could have been exposed to in much the same way as the British Scotch Egg has its origins as an Indian kebab—a hard-boiled egg wrapped in spicy ground lamb.

Additional Iconic Dishes

Chamussas are pastries clearly related to the Indian samosa, and can be stuffed with a pea-based vegetarian filling or spicy minced beef. Unlike samosas, however, they are deep-fried, like Cantonese spring rolls. Even more specifically Asian is lacassa, a soupy rice-noodle dish flavored with balichão and coriander and a spot of Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine), and traditionally served the night before Christmas. Though deriving from Portuguese cozido, tacho is the most Cantonese of the repertoire: a hearty winter casserole using Cantonese cuts of meat picked up at the local market—including roast duck, Chinese bacon (lap yuk), Chinese sausage (lap cheong), pig skin, and pig trotter—and white cabbage cut into large chunks. On the other hand, the post-Christmas dish of diabo (meaning “devil”: the dish is said to be a devil for the stomach) reflects how the Macanese Christmas spread in some families is more British in flavor, incorporating roast turkey, ham, and braised duck. The main flavors are derived from pickles and Dijon mustard, and chili is often added too. Portuguese chicken, also known as Macau chicken (and po kok gai in Cantonese pinyin), cannot be found in Portugal as it is decidedly Macanese: a chicken marinated in white wine and bay leaf, but with coconut milk and light spicing. Ade cabidela is duck cooked in its own blood, with ade being an ancient Portuguese term no longer in use in Portugal. Bebinca de rabano is a steamed radish dish, eaten in the winter, and topped with Chinese sausage, torn coriander leaves, and chili.

Macanese Cuisine in Restaurants

Only as recently as the 1980s and early 1990s, dining in Macau was a relatively simple affair. The upmarket hotels would perhaps have a grill room, but these were the days before the ubiquity of upmarket Japanese and Italian restaurants. Dining in Macau was inexpensive, and casual, whether Cantonese, Portuguese, or Macanese. Street food abounded, with some stalls only setting up shop after dark. Delicacies long since banned in Hong Kong (owl, for example) or dishes considered too humble, such as worms baked with pork, mushroom and orange peel, were still to be found in Macau. When gambling was deregulated, with the Sands casino being the first to open on Chinese New Year in 2002, catering took a whole new turn. Mistakes were made: the typical gambler did not want to spend 45 minutes in front of a 100 meter-long buffet, he wanted to spend seven minutes (exactly seven minutes, researchers found) slurping a bowl of noodles.

The five star-plus hotels raised the bar high with their Michelin-starred restaurants, and the quality of Cantonese food at the high-end has surpassed even that of Hong Kong. At street level, there are myriad choices. There are more Portuguese restaurants than ever, and much evidence of “Macau food” such as Lord Stow’s egg tarts, pork chop buns, and almond cookies. It is harder to find Cantonese street food these days; meanwhile Macanese dishes, cafes and restaurants occupy their own space in the midst of this dynamism.

Culture and Tradition in Macanese Cooking

There’s little recorded history of Macau culture. Thus, as the Macanese writer Cecilia Jorge puts it: “It is not easy to describe reliably and accurately what used to be served at the table of our Macanese forebears or what people once ate as their ‘daily bread’ in Macau’s early days” (Jorge 2004, 7). As she points out, more is known about what the English and Americans ate in Macau in the 1800s, thanks to diaries such as those recorded by the American Harriett Low who lived in Macau from 1829 to 1833. Much of what is known has been information gleaned by those elderly Macanese who have worked as private chefs, or in hotels and restaurants.

It is not unusual to sit down at a Macanese table where steamed rice, fried potatoes, and bread rolls are served simultaneously, and while tea or beer would be served these days, the traditional drink of the dining table would have been Portuguese red wine. In similar style to the Cantonese, meal times would traditionally comprise of a number of dishes placed at the center of the table for sharing. Instead of chopsticks, however, spoons and forks would be used. Crucially, soup does not play an important role in the meal, although it is important on both the Portuguese and the Cantonese table. There may be some Cantonese-style (but with a twist) steamed or fried green vegetables served, but usually Cantonese dishes would be served alongside other Cantonese dishes.

Fewer and fewer Macanese cook traditional food at home, but family gatherings such as baptisms and weddings are occasions when the traditional chá gordo is served. This is a series of dishes cooked for celebrations and presented buffet style, with often bite-sized sweet and savory dishes sharing the table. Dishes would include chamussas (stuffed pastries, deep-fried), minchi, ade cabidela, porco balichão tamarindo (a salty and sour pork braise), arroz gordo (literally “fat rice”—meats layered with rice), mango pudding (distinguishable from the Cantonese version as its contains chopped pieces of fruit), and bagi (rice pudding made with coconut milk). Since this is a standing buffet, nothing served requires a knife for cutting.

Macanese cooking can be very time consuming (and expensive), both in terms of gathering and preparing ingredients. Families were large, and guests were often invited to share a meal, so elaborate preparation was justified, particularly for special occasions. The dessert called bebinca (rice flour, sugar, egg yolk, coconut milk, and dairy milk) is left to rest for a whole day before it is baked. Macanese roast soup requires cooking meats for three hours before removing the meat from the bones, baking it in the oven, and only finally combining it with the soup preparation. Bolo menino, a cake prepared with grated coconut and almonds, requires someone to beat twenty eggs which, in the days before electricity, would have been a time-consuming task.

In an anthology of recipes circulating in the Macanese community of Hong Kong, the method for some recipes covers an entire sheet of paper, suggesting the time available to be spent in the kitchen (or the availability of servants), while others start with phrases such as: “Prepare the pheasant in the usual way.” Hunting was a popular pastime on Taipa among the menfolk. The huge pots of meat-based tacho and diabo would have traditionally been prepared by men, while the making of sweets and desserts, including bolo vestido (literally “dolled up” cakes), would have been the preserve of talented female confectioners.

Geographical and Cultural Influences

In its early trading days, Macau was called the Venice of the East and was considered one of the most wealthy ports in the world. It enjoys similar prestige today, having overtaken Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world. The fortunes of different Macanese families have been similarly up and down. The 1920s and 1930s, notes David Brookshaw, a scholar of postcolonial history, “were decades when the Macanese felt secure, unaware of the great upheavals that were to come, when their culinary arts were practised by the old families and patua was still spoken among an older generation” (Brookshaw 2004, ix). Many Macanese either chose or were forced to travel overseas for university educations and jobs, and the Macanese in diaspora—particularly in Portugal, the United States, and Australia, in addition to Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil—has for a considerable time been larger than the domestic population.

Critically, in the run up to the transfer of sovereignty from Portugal to the People’s Republic of China in December 1999, there was a strong sense that the Macanese were losing their homeland—their terra—and being quashed by the Chinese. Many more left at this time.

Their fears to some extent have not come to pass, as the Macau government has shown itself very keen to preserve aspects of Macanese (and Portuguese) culture. Clubs, or casas, in cities from Lisbon to Melbourne to San Diego are partially (Macau) government-funded, and have become meeting places where Macanese food is central. Every three years, the Macau government funds a conference for a thousand members of the Macanese diaspora, which always includes a cooking competition. The hotels and casinos, which have been opening in bewildering numbers in the past fifteen years, are encouraged to list Macanese and Portuguese dishes, and Portuguese wine. Independent “Portuguese” restaurants such as A Lorcha and Litoral list Macanese dishes on their menus.

Yet there is a sense among Macanese that their status has changed. “In the colonial era, the Macanese were hierarchically subordinate to the Portuguese but enjoyed superior social status when compared with the Chinese” writes the researcher and production director Maria Eusébio. “Yet, in the plays of the postcolonial era, the Macanese are portrayed as clearly subordinate to the Chinese.” She continued with some specific lines from a play: “‘I really don’t understand, for our whole lives, we learnt to admire the red and green flag (Portuguese flag). Sing the national anthem, if we are not Portuguese, not Chinese, then who are we?’” (Eusebio 2013, 33).

Within this rather precarious arena of identity, Macanese food assumes a central role in representing a lost “space” or “place” and comes to embody identity and a distinct racial validity (Zhang and Pang 2012, 939).

The exponential growth of the hospitality industry, however, has given the younger generation of Macanese career opportunities at home in Macau. Many young Macau Chinese are similarly delighted to be able to return home after studies, rather than remaining abroad.

Macanese culture remained strong through to the 1960s, when Macanese women would almost certainly marry members of the Portuguese military if they didn’t marry a fellow Macanese. When the military left, however, the Macanese started to be more aligned with Cantonese culture, which was considered rather dominant. Yet whereas families with strong Portuguese identity (the wealthier, the better educated) would almost certainly have eaten Portuguese and Macanese food every day, the families which would also eat simple Cantonese-style dishes such as tofu stir-fried with cabbage would have been seen to be of slightly lower class.

Identity Through Cuisine

Historically, the Macanese would have defined themselves by that great cultural triumvirate: language, religion, and food. While Portuguese remains an official language of Macau, it is spoken far less today by young Macanese, who increasingly use Mandarin in addition to English. Their patua has all but vanished (though there is a theatre group trying to revive it, in Macau), and Catholicism is no longer the binding force it once was. Macanese cuisine is therefore pivotal to cultural identity, and members of the diaspora say they cling to memories of food as the main way of being or feeling Macanese.

This centrality of Macanese cuisine to Macanese cultural identify has revealed itself in some interesting ways. It has often been mooted that the lack of Macanese restaurants (the first, Riquexó, opened as recently as 1978) is because this cuisine is not restaurant food; as it was created in the domestic kitchens, aesthetics were rarely if ever given consideration. The question is whether or not the Macanese simply wanted to keep their cuisine to themselves. Until the 1990s, almost nothing had been written about Macanese food, and recipes were only handed down orally, and only within families. Sometimes they were not handed down at all, or were “whispered into the ear of a younger family member before being recorded on paper and duly ‘interpreted’ by their descendants” (Jorge 2004, 24). One hand-written recipe found contains a diagram showing how to wrap a pastry triangle. It was written on a Hong Kong hospital notepad.

“It is quite possible that the best recipes for each special delicacy has gone to the grave along with the people famous in their day for their culinary arts” (Jorge 2004, 10). Restaurateurs such as Isabel Eusebio (Balichão) and Sonia Palmer (Riquexó) were concerned that the cuisine was dying out and began to share recipes and ideas. It was still being cooked well, but by an increasingly older group of mostly women (such as Isabel’s mother, Maria Eusebio, and Sonia’s mother, Aida de Jesus), who were becoming too elderly to continue. With increasing interest in world cooking and cultural tourism emerging, Macanese cuisine caught the wave and books began to be published about Macau and the place of Macanese cuisine therein, in several languages.

The secrets contained within recipes in regards to cultural identity, and even contained in their names, are a focus for Cecilia Jorge. “Rather than strive to determine what is or not Portuguese heritage among the delicacies we still so enjoy today, we should try to ‘read’ between the recipe lines,” she writes in the introduction to Macanese Cooking (Jorge 2004, 8). “We should take note of the names (or various names) of the dish, its native and foreign ingredients, how it is prepared, cooked and when it is served. From this ‘reading’ we can form a notion as to our collective identity.” She concludes that: “Macanese miscegenation is, in cultural terms, the result of a process still in transformation and at different rhythms as set by historical events” (Jorge 2004, 8). There is no one recipe, no perfect recipe, and everything is in a state of flux.

Recipes that have been circulated previously, for example among the Macanese community in Hong Kong, are illuminating. One anthology, typed on a manual typewriter and amounting to more than a hundred pages, had gathered recipes from Macanese all over the world. The editor credits many of the recipes with names (Guilly appears most frequently; Delmira Alves is sometimes denoted as D.A.; and one recipe is from “Melita’s cook, Adi”). Where more than one recipe for the same dish is included, the editor might comment on which one appears better or more authentic. A footnote for a recipe for porco balichão tamarindo suggests a “modern” version, which is essentially a far less time-consuming version: evidence already of busier lives and fewer servants, perhaps.

The presentation of such recipes indicates the travelled and cosmopolitan nature of the community; and, interestingly, they are presented in English. Cantonese ingredients are typed in pinyin: such as lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and kai choi, which are Cantonese bitter vegetables. Ingredients such as rice flour and white wine are listed in Portuguese (farina arroz pulu, vinho branco), or in both English and Portuguese (turnip/rabono and garlic/alho). One recipe converts ounces to catties, the traditional measurement in a Cantonese market (1 catty = 22 ounces). Measurements might be in (Portuguese) coffee spoons rather than teaspoons, and soup spoons rather than tablespoons; and some ingredients, such as ginger, are listed not by weight or by size but by cost: 20c. Prices were clearly stable, and inflation was not a consideration.

Modern Adaptation and Preservation

Veteran Macanese cook Aida de Jesus oversaw the daily running of Riquexó along with her daughter, but both here and at APOMAC, a club for Macanese but with a restaurant open to the public, young Filipinos have been taught how to prepare Macanese dishes. Principally, Portuguese restaurants such as A Lorcha and Litoral serve Macanese dishes, as does the restaurant at IFT—Macau’s Institute of Tourism Studies. There’s the risk though, that Macanese cuisine will be reduced to a repertoire of just a handful of dishes, all adapted to suit the hotel guest.

Perhaps adaptation is not quite the threat it might be seen as: the nature of Macanese food is adaption, as is particularly true for domestic kitchen-based cuisines. Some dishes probably never made it past the first post, or remained the domain of just one family. Other changes simply reflect the times. Lard would be seen as an essential part of the flavor and texture of arroz carregado, a firmly textured pressed rice dish pricked with spring onions and traditionally served with porco balichão tamarindo. Yet cooking with lard has ceased to be popular (or essential, in terms of using every single last piece of the pig) and has been replaced by butter, or elsewhere with olive oil, altering flavors and texture in the recreation of a typical dish. Musing on the Macanese concoction po kok gai (Portuguese Chicken Curry), chef and restauranteur Abraham Conlon addresses the decoration of this dish, which might include hard-boiled egg, olives, and chouriço. “[They were] likely added much later,” he writes, “by clever twentieth-century restaurateurs who either wanted to make the dish more ‘exotic’ for Chinese tourists or more ‘Portuguese’ for visiting Portuguese dignitaries” (Conlon and Lo 2016, 181).

Continual Reinterpretation

Geography would suggest that Macanese cuisine can be defined as a hybrid Portuguese-Cantonese cooking, but the movement of the Portuguese, and their wines and servants, across the world but most particularly in Asia, inform its nature. Macanese cuisine is grounded in Portuguese culture and traditions, but accented by Asian culture and traditions, as well as ingredients. The construction of Macanese cuisine began in domestic kitchens 450 years ago, but remains a dynamic process to this day. A distinction can be drawn, then, between Macanese cuisine’s place of origin and its continual reinterpretation. “Macanese cuisine has become…a full-fledged cuisine, evolving from home food enjoyed at home to a home food cuisine offered in restaurants” (Zhang and Pang 2012, 935).

Further Reading 

  • Appadurai, Arjun. (1988). How to make a national cuisine: Cookbooks in contemporary India. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30(1).
  • Augustin-Jean, Louis. (2002). Food consumption, food perception and the search for a Macanese identity. In David Y. H. Wu and Sidney C. H. Cheung (Eds.), The globalisation of Chinese food. London, UK: RoutledgeCurzon.
  • Belasco, Warren. (2005). Food and the counterculture. In James Watson and Melissa Caldwell (Eds.), The cultural politics of food and eating. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
  • Brookshaw, David. (2002). Visions of China: Stories from Macau. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Conlon, Abraham, & Lo, Adrienne. (2016). The adventures of Fat Rice: Recipes from the Chicago restaurant inspired by Macau. New York: Ten Speed Press.
  • De Senna Fernandes, Henrique. (2002). Candy. In David Brookshaw (Ed), Visions of China: Stories from Macau. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • De Senna Fernandes, Henrique. (2004). The bewitching braid. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Doling, Annabel. (1994). Macau on a plate: A culinary journey. Hong Kong: Roundhouse Publications.
  • Eusébio, Maria. (2013, Summer). The voice on the postcolonial stage. The Newsletter, no 64.
  • Jackson, Annabel. (2003). Taste of Macau: Portuguese cuisine on the China coast. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Jackson, Annabel. (1999). Hong Kong, Macau and the muddy Pearl: Travels in the Pearl River Delta. Hong Kong: Asia 2000.
  • Jorge, Cecília. (2004). Macanese cooking: A journey across generations. Macau: APIM.
  • Klein, Jacob. (2014). There is no such thing as Dian cuisine!: Food and local identity in urban southwest China. Food & History, 11(1), 203–225.
  • Low, Harriet. (2002). Lights and shadows of a Macao life: The journal of Harriett Low, travelling spinster. Washington, WA: The History Bank.
  • Mintz, Sidney. (2008). Food and diaspora. (SOAS Food Forum Distinguished Lecture).
  • Nery, Felipe. (2006). The transition: A novel. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
  • Pons, Philippe. (1999). Macao. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Sutton, David. (2001). Remembrance of repasts: An anthropology of food and memory. Oxford, UK: Berg.
  • Watson, James. (Ed.). (1977). Between two cultures: Migrants and minorities in Britain. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.
  • Wilk, Richard. (2002). Food and nationalism: The origins of “Belizean food.” In Warren James Belasco and Philip  Scranton (Eds.), Food nations: Selling taste in consumer societies. New York: Routledge.
  • Zhang, Yang, & Pang, Ching Lin. (2012). From home food to Macanese cuisine? Historical development, tourist branding and cultural identity. Sociology Study, 2(12), 934–940.